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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Trip to Mexico on March 23, 2010

FPC Briefing
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
March 19, 2010

Date: 03/19/2010 Location: Washington, DC. Description: Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on Secretary Clinton's Trip to Mexico on March 23, 2010. - State Dept Image


11:00 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. It’s wonderful to see so many faces, some very well-known and others that I haven’t seen for a while. Welcome back. Today, we have Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, who is going to speak to us about the recent trips that the Secretary has done and the trips that she will be doing.

So without more, Dr. Valenzuela.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be back here with you today. The last time we met was right before the Secretary took her trip to the Southern Cone and then Central America, and I thought I would just briefly mention that and then refer to the trip that she’s going to be taking to Mexico next week.

As you know, we traveled to the inauguration of President Mujica in Uruguay. This was a trip that will focus on her attending that inaugural ceremony, which was a wonderful event. It was a real celebration of the transfer of power and the republican form of government. Uruguayans know how to do this very well. It’s a very sober and a serious kind of ceremony and it’s a celebration, in some ways, of what democracy is all about – governments that exist because they have the confidence of the people and are selected by the people.

In fact, Mujica, in his own address, kept saying – right at the beginning, he kept saying, “When does this business of presidente-electo stop? When do I really become the president as opposed to presidente-electo or president-elect?” I said, “Come to think of it” – he said – and this is in his address to the congress, “I kind of like this business of president-elect because it reminds us that, in fact, we’re only here because we’re elected by the people.” So that was kind of a nice sort of a reminder, and he said, “Let’s try to keep that notion there.”

We had a very important bilateral meeting in Montevideo with President Lugo of Paraguay. And then because of the earthquake in Chile, we were going to do a bilateral with President Kirchner in Uruguay as well, but instead, we went to Buenos Aires. Then to Santiago, where we met with the president and then president-elect and – in the aftermath of the earthquake, and then following that, a very useful and successful trip to Brazil, where the Secretary was in Brasilia and then in Sao Paulo, and then to Costa Rica for the Pathways to Prosperity meeting. And then finally, the last stop was Guatemala, where we met with the presidents of the Central American countries. All in told, we saw 12 presidents, 12 foreign ministers, something like that, and a host of government officials, foreign ministers.

The Pathways meeting, as you know, in Costa Rica is a hemispheric-wide engagement stressing the cooperation that all of our countries have on issues having to do with competitiveness but where we have placed a particular emphasis now as we’ve moved on in developing this concept of this Partnership for Prosperity on issues of social inclusion as well as things like climate change and energy and other things. It’s a whole host of items on the agenda.

And in Guatemala, the very – it was an extraordinary conversation where we talked again about the challenges and opportunities that we have together with the countries of Central America, with the themes of co-responsibility. Everywhere we went, the Secretary emphasized the themes of co-responsibility. We stand ready to work with the countries, say, of Central America in this particular case, on projects that are of benefit, mutual benefit to our peoples where we come to the table with the notion that we want to share best practices, where some reforms need to be implemented, for example, among the Central American countries, particularly the issue of fiscal responsibility. It was one of the things that came up – the importance of being able to establish effective tax regimes, for example.

The international community provides a significant amount of support for the Central American countries, the European Union, the Spaniards, the United States and others. But in some countries, taxation levels are extremely low, extremely low. And so this is one of the things that we talked about is how can reforms be made in such a way that you build a greater state capacity within countries so that they in turn can invest more in infrastructure and in their own people.

So these were very fluid and very good conversations. I think that the trip, all in all, was very successful. We discussed the issue of Honduras with the Central American presidents and the follow-up to many of the items on our agenda. The Secretary was very pleased with the trip. Those of us who accompanied her were also extremely pleased. It just showed the degree of engagement.

What surprised me and what motivated me was how, at every stop, we had such a long and broad list of items on the bilateral agendas with each one of the countries but also on multilateral agendas. Because one of the things it’s important to emphasize is how significant the process of integration is in places like Central America, and the United States supports these processes of integration because they are to the benefit of the countries in the region.

This week, as you know, the Secretary has just been in Russia. She’s coming back next week. She will be traveling on the 23rd to Mexico for the meeting of the high-level contact group that will be dealing with a discussion of cooperation and collaborative work that the United States is doing, again, in* the spirit of co-responsibility of the challenges that we face with Mexico. It’s a meeting that will take place in Mexico City. It – the Secretary will be accompanied by some of her counterparts from other agencies, cabinet members. And we expect a fruitful dialogue on the very, very intense cooperation that the United States has in addressing the problems that are common problems to both of our countries. Again, underlying – underscoring the issue of co-responsibility. This is a common challenge that we face. Our objective is to how can we work better to defeat the challenges that we have with, say, the drug trafficking organizations and other things like that, but also move forward to try to improve the situations of our peoples on both sides of the border.

There – as you know, fundamentally four kinds of objectives in our cooperation. One of them is to disrupt drug trafficking organizations, but that’s just one aspect. The other aspect is to see how we can work together to improve our own cooperative effort in that regard, but also to see how we can cooperate on best practices to strengthen things like law enforcement institutions and the like, rule of law at the – working with Mexico, and following the advice and the initiatives that the Mexicans are taking on these issues to see how we can cooperate and collaborate on things such as law enforcement.

The third, of course, issue that is very much present is how we can work on the 21st century border and that’s how we can really make this the kind of dynamic border that it already is, but to facilitate it much further to make sure that we can have the kind of border that allows for the fluid exchange of goods and people as we go on.

And then finally, everything that we’re doing together is really about empowering local communities on both sides of the border in both of our countries to see how we can – and here, of course, the lead is on both sides, in our own countries, but where we can as well cooperate. And so that’s kind of the agenda. The meeting will be a one-day meeting, and then she will be – the Secretary will be returning to Washington.

I’m ready to take some of your questions if you would like. I can just sort of end my comment by saying that you’ve seen significant engagement on the part of the United States and the Secretary with the Western Hemisphere. We’re very very pleased about this. It is a follow-up to the commitments that both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made to a robust engagement with the countries of this – of the Americas.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jose Diaz with La Reforma, a newspaper from Mexico. As you travel into Mexico, you will find public sentiment very high, you know, against the United States for not doing its part in drug consumption in reducing drug consumption, how also stopping the flow of arms into Mexico. All of the newspapers in Mexico talk about this.

And one year ago, President Obama as he visited Mexico – one of the few commitments that he made, specifically to circumvent the trafficking of weapons south of the border was for him to push strongly for the ratification of CIFTA, the convention against illicit manufacturing of small arms, or something. I know that the Administration sent it to the Foreign Relations Committee, but it’s sitting there. No one has done anything. The office of Senator Kerry says, you know, basically the schedule of the Senate has not been good timing for us to push this.

But where is the word of President Obama when he cannot push with this specific comment he made one year ago?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, let me make sure that I can clarify the record on this. The level of engagement between our two governments on these issues that are of importance to both countries that have to do with the increase of violence and the continued inroads that criminal organizations are making, the current drug organizations are making, is something that we’re working on together. And I had some experience myself in the relationship with Mexico, having worked on the Mexico portfolio in 1994, in the early part of the 1990s, and I’ve never seen – I never saw then and I haven’t seen today, the level and degree of cooperative work between our two governments and the degree of commitment in terms of resources and the intensity of exchange of information, common actions and so on that we have right now.

And you’re right to say that elements of concern includes not only drugs coming into the United States, but also small weapons going into Mexico and things like that. And we’re committed to working strongly in that regard.

I would defer to the Congress of the United States and to – you might ask as to where those – where that is at this particular point. As you know, questions – it happens also in the Mexican congress, things that go through there; the Congress is another track. And – but this is something that we are committed, as the President said, to and we’ll see whether we can get it ratified.

QUESTION: I know that very well. I understand very well the division of powers in all democracies. But my question is: What he is doing this – specifically the Administration to push the ratification of CIFTA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yeah. Well, what we’ve done is said that we support this – the ratification of these – this measure. It’s up to the Congress of the United States to follow through on that. And there are a lot of things that the Administration would like out of the Congress that we haven’t been able to get through. As you very well know, this is something that’s being discussed all the time. And I would refer to the fact that this is something that most countries face in terms of presidents dealing with their legislation.

We’re very confident that we’re moving ahead not only – this particular convention is just one of the elements, one of the tools that we want to use in this regard. What is really more important is efforts on both sides of the border to try to manage the border, and that’s why this constant concept, for example, of trying to address the 20th century border as an important objective for what we’re trying to do. The way in which we can better track goods coming into the United States so – and into Mexico, because it’s a two-way street, is where our objectives are.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ruben Barrera, Notimex News Agency. (Inaudible) Mr. Valenzuela, one of the issues regarding the cooperation between both countries is the fact that part of the assistance to Mexico under the Merida Initiative has not been delivered so far, especially equipment. We understand that on the issue of the Black Hawk helicopters there was a date to deliver that equipment that I understand was this past January. And the question basically is if – does Secretary Clinton plan to give the Mexican Government a precise date when this equipment will be – start being delivered?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yes. I know that there’s been some questions raised about this particular issue in terms of the actual flow of some of the funding in the U.S. commitment in this cooperative work with Mexico. I don’t have the figures in front of me right now, but I can assure you one thing and that is the bulk of the funding that has been committed to this process has actually either been flowing into Mexico or has been flowing. The – I don’t have at the tip of my tongue specifics on particular kinds of equipment that haven’t gone. But I can reiterate that the bulk of the funding takes some time to get – particularly when you have these very large appropriations for these efforts to get programs put into place and to get certain kinds of equipment out. But I can assure that the bulk of it has been going out in the way that we expect it to do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: So I can’t answer specifically what the situation is with the Black Hawk --

QUESTION: No. I understand you, but the thing is, you know, even when you say that some of this assistance has been maybe already given to Mexico, the perception in Congress is that, you know, U.S. is not doing this, you know, fast enough. And maybe they have, you know, better information than me. So yesterday, two congressmen – one Democrat, another Republican – there were saying that so far, U.S. has failed to provide the equipment, and especially they mentioned the Black Hawk helicopters because this is an integral part of Merida initiative.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Let me just reiterate what I said before. That is the bulk of the assistance has been flowing.

MODERATOR: Back here.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Andrea Murta from Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. I was wondering if, Secretary, you approached the issue of trade situation with Mexico and the retaliations that have been imposed against the U.S. And on the topic also, if you could give us any indication of when Brazil can expect a proposal from the United States regarding the retaliation against the U.S. for the cotton dispute.

ASSISTANT SECRETERY VALENZUELA: Right. I can just simply say this: that with regard to these trade disputes, and there are trade disputes in any relationship that we have with other countries, there are all kinds of issues that are on the table, including trade disputes. And as we well know, that there are trade disputes having to do with various different elements. And with Mexico, and there is also this recent trade dispute. It is our desire, expectation that we will work together to try to resolve these. I don’t have any particular timing, but it is our expectation we will try to work together to try to get a resolution to these issues. It’s a very important element in our foreign policy objectives to come to a resolution of these problems. They’re often not easy to deal with, but that’s our commitment.

QUESTION: But in this – going to talk about this issue as well. Is that a plan?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: You know, it’s – often in these meetings, you have various different sorts of things come up. And the focus of this particular meeting, by the very nature of the participants and so on, is really much more on the security issues that we’re working on with Mexico. But these kinds of things, the President – the Secretary will be meeting with the President at one point, and these are elements that I’m sure will come up in some of the discussions.

MODERATOR: Yes. Dolia.

QUESTION: Doila Estevez with Poder Magazine and MVSR Radio Noticas. I have a couple of quick questions on the meeting next Tuesday. And the press release announcing the delegation mentioned that among the subjects that will be addressed is strengthening the rule of law, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights. On the issue of human rights, do you expect to address the alarming situation journalists are going through in Mexico? This year alone, there’s been four journalists slain and five more disappeared last week in Reynosa. So it’s within the issue of human rights, and your report last week addressed this. So I was wondering if it’s going to come up during the meeting, the discussions between these two delegations led by Hillary Clinton.

And the other quick thing is, can we expect deliverables or an announcement or a joint communiqué on Tuesday?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: With regard to your last question, I don’t think there is a plan for a joint communiqué. Is there a plan? Yes, I guess there is a plan for a joint communiqué. I have it directly from the people who are working – doing the work on joint communiqués. I haven’t seen drafts of it yet.

The – with regard to – yeah, as you suggested, in our dialogue, because this is a dialogue and – where we’re working together on a whole host of things, and this is – and it’s quite – this is something that the Mexican Government is very conscious of, the importance of trying to strengthen its institutions of law enforcement and of governance, with due respect to the matter of human rights. And that is a significant problem. These criminal organizations are going after journalists and others, and they want to try to hide, which is happening. And so this is a very serious problem. And I’m sure it’s one of the things that will be discussed.

But let me emphasize as I say this that we’re fully conscious that these are challenges that both of our countries face. Let me stress that again. This is an issue where we take seriously these conversations and our dialogue and our collaborative effort with Mexico because we want to do it with utmost respect to Mexican sensibilities, to Mexican sovereignty, to the fact that we are partners but we are two distinct nations, and we’re two distinct nations by destiny. We’re tied together on a whole host – and through our peoples we’re tired together through a whole host of reasons. The border is one of the most dynamic things in the world and I had been the privilege of visiting that. So this is an engagement that is done, mindful of the actual critical importance of such things as preserving human rights, but done in a spirit of respect, mutual respect and dialogue, so that this is not a situation where we’re going down and expressing our own views on these things. This is something that we’re – that stems from a genuine dialogue, a dialogue of mutual respect.

QUESTION: Thank you. Silvia Ayuso from the German Press Agency. Have two – also two quick questions regarding the meeting. Is the killings last weekend on Ciudad Juarez going to change something on the plan? This has – this is a meeting had been planned for months. But has this altered in some way the meeting or the discussions?

And the second question, which is a different area, is next week, we are approaching the OAS elections, and the U.S. has said nothing yet. I was wondering if there was – there is going to be a statement or if the US. Is going to say something about who it’s supporting regarding the elections? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks for your questions. The tragic events in Juarez are just a reminder of the challenges that both countries face. And – but this meeting was planned a long time ago. It – these are matters that will be, I’m – surely discussed as the situation in Juarez is a very serious one. But Juarez is not the only place where there is a serious problem. There’s a problem throughout the northern part of Mexico and on the – through the border areas, so that this is a – this will be something that will come up.

As you are aware, the Ambassador did go to Juarez, Ambassador Carlos Pasqual, as did the president and the foreign minister. So this is something – we grieve the loss of life of people associated with our consulate in Juarez. Consulates, however, in all of Northern – in all of Mexico are now reopened for business. And we’re continuing to work. It’s very important for us to continue to make possible, as best we can, the kind of normal flow of the relationships between our two countries because of the intensity of that relationship.

With regard to the OAS, there’s an election coming up. We’re evaluating our position on that. But I imagine that we will come out with some kind of a declaration, or some kind of a statement, maybe not a statement – a position soon. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to take place. We’re still working on that.

MODERATOR: And we have time for one last question. Yes. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Juan Carlos Lopez, CNN en Espanol. Mr. Valenzuela, first, the meeting was originally programmed for Guadalajara. Now it’s in Mexico City. Can you tell us why? And second, recent statements by Secretary Napolitano in a TV interview, where she said that the Mexican army presence hadn’t helped reduce violence on the Mexican side, caused an uproar in Mexico. They were rejected by (inaudible) Nacion. Is this going to be part of the conversation? Is this considered to be over, or – please talk about that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The shift of the meeting to Mexico City was a shift that I think that we responded in some ways to logistical issues. It was better to be able to have a meeting directly there because of timing factors and things like that. So I wouldn’t make too much of the shift, but it’s obviously easier to do a meeting of that kind in Mexico City.

The – with regard to the statements, they’ve been mischaracterized or misinterpreted, because what our position on that is that, of course, there is an important role for all of these organizations whether it’s the military, whether it’s the federal police, whether it’s with other organizations in this effort.

And what is critical is what both – what the Mexican Government itself has argued. And that this is an integrated -- it has to be an integrated response. It’s an integrated response. It is not only one that depends on the armed forces, but it also depends on the federal police; it depends on local authorities and other things like that. And that’s what it was to do – the intention of the remark was to, essentially, to point to what – essentially, the policy of the Mexican Government with which the United States concurs. And that is, that in fact, there has to be a broad, integrated approach to addressing the problems of criminal organizations and drug violence in Mexico and the United States.

MODERATOR: All right. Assistant Valenzuela, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming here today.

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